Diakonia - People change the world
Zeina Thabet is playing with clay. Ten year-old Zeina Thabet rolls the modelling clay into a red snake, then she makes food she likes and food she doesn’t like. Children are learning to express their emotions using literature and modelling clay. Photo: Iyas Abu Rahmah

Culture helps children to interpret the world around them

Reading, playing and telling stories teach children how to express themselves and better interpret the world, even when their world is hard to understand. The Tamer Institute for Community Education has been giving children and young people in Palestine access to culture for more than 30 years. In a library in Ramallah, story time becomes an outlet for children’s emotions.

Yummy pizza and yucky seeds

Ten year-old Zeina Thabet concentrates on the colourful clay on the table in front of her. She puts a red snake down the middle of the little paper plate to mark the boundary between food she likes and food she doesn’t like. On one side she makes a slice of pizza, on the other some black seeds. She isn’t quite sure what they are called, just that they are horrible.
“The pizza means love and the seeds hate,” she explains, carrying on modelling.

Books and clay to express feelings

Zeina and about twenty other children aged six to eleven are sitting at two long tables in a library in the Palestinian town of Ramallah, surrounded by rows of children’s books from different countries. They have just been asked by librarian Heba Sae’da to describe foods they like and don’t like. Heba has just read them a story about Silly Lily, a girl who keeps saying silly words that make her body feel uncomfortable and awkward.
“Sometimes we say silly things to people without thinking, but the words are like food we don’t like, they make us feel bad inside,” Heba tells the children. The idea behind the exercise is for children to learn more about how they want to express themselves and which words they like.

children working with clay

Hopes and dreams

Storytelling at the library is run by the Tamer Institute for Community Education, an organisation founded in 1989 during the first intifada, the Palestinian uprising against the occupying power, Israel. Many universities and schools were shut and the institute emerged out of a movement to preserve Palestinian culture and literature. They have reading campaigns every year and arrange lots of activities.
“Art and literature are good ways for children to express themselves, their hopes and dreams,” says Renad Qubbaj, Director General of the Tamer Institute, which has been supported by Diakonia since 1992, with the aim of promoting children’s rights.

Teacher reading for children

Understanding life

It’s about so much more than just reading a book. It’s about learning to understand an interpret life in lots of different ways.
“We are living in circumstances where children are suffering a great deal from the occupation and everything it involves, it is hard to understand why there is so much violence and injustice. They need something from outside that shows them things that are good in life,” says Haneen Khairi, programme manager at the Tamer Institute.

Library a haven

About 80 local Palestinian libraries form a network for Tamer’s operations, and the aim is to make them a haven for children and families.
“We want the libraries to be something unique. They aren’t religious and they are non-governmental and can play a role of their own. The aim is for them to be a third space after home and school or work. Somewhere people can come to read, spend time together, feel at home and change society,” says Haneen Khairi.

Girls working with clay

Important for girls

Tamer’s activities are open to all children, but they play a particularly important role for girls. Palestinian society is traditional, and girls’ freedom of movement is often restricted. But many parents see the library as a safe place to be.
“The activities and conversations give girls greater self-confidence and the power to stand up for themselves. They are empowered to be active in their families, they understand their rights much more and are able to communicate better with their parents about what they want and need,” says Renad Qubbai.

Scared sometimes

For Zeina Tabet, Tamer’s activities are the best thing ever. She has attended their summer camps, gained lots of new friends and loves drawing. She likes drawing sad faces best because it’s different, but she isn’t sad herself, she says. She thinks it’s great being a child in Ramallah, but she knows that the lives of everyone living here would be better if there wasn’t an occupation.
“It can be difficult sometimes, like when they stop our car and we have to just stand there waiting for hours. But I like living in Ramallah, the weather is wonderful and it’s like the heart of Palestine.”